Cover Story

Baroness for battle

"Baroness for battle" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2004," Dec. 11, 2004

"I'm a great believer in the authenticity of firsthand experience," she told an audience in Australia recently. "It's important to be able to say, 'I've been, I've seen, I know how it is.'"

What she saw under Soviet domination offended both her medical sensibilities and Christian sense of justice. She returned from visiting state-run orphanages in Leningrad to write a report, "Trajectories of Despair," about bright and able orphans shunned and misdiagnosed as mentally handicapped. She lobbied openly for Soviet regime change from the upper house of Parliament at the height of the arms race, when fashionable Europeans were agitating not for an end to Soviet hegemony but for dismantling U.S. missiles based on the continent. As the Soviet Union crumbled over the next decade, Russian medical and social service officials, once bound to silence, welcomed her report. She joined with a panel of experts to reform foster-care and adoption procedures.

Such experiences prepared Mrs. Cox for the next global war-against militant Islam-long before al-Qaeda struck directly at the United States. As Soviet-led oppression gave way to ethnic cleansing, Mrs. Cox was ready with relief aid and public advocacy. When Muslim-Christian tensions flared into war between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan over a disputed region known as Nagorno-Karabakh, Mrs. Cox went to see for herself.

Muslim Azerbaijan annexed the region, historically home to 150,000 Armenians. A systematic campaign, backed by Soviet-made missiles and air defenses, sought to rid the region of the Christian Armenians, a tiny minority long persecuted by Turks in the east and now at the mercy of 7 million Azerbaijanis to the west.

Moscow implicitly sided with Azerbaijanis and used its veto power on the UN Security Council to keep international intervention at bay. It was the start of an ongoing battle for Mrs. Cox and her allies against rogue states using international legitimacy not only to oppress stateless minorities (in many cases Christians) but also to starve them of outside aid.

The UN declared Nagorno-Karabakh a "no-go" area for aid. Turkey and Azerbaijan closed borders. Hearing of besieged Armenians hiding in root cellars, Mrs. Cox made the first of dozens of sorties to the remote enclave, setting out from England in cargo planes, then switching to smaller craft in Armenia to skirt radar across Azerbaijani airspace and the Caucasus. Throughout a conflict much of the world ignored, she smuggled cigarettes for the pilots, food for Armenians, and needed drugs for doctors performing surgery by candlelight and without anesthetics. She counted 17 pilots among her friends killed during that period. Still, she kept up steady jaunts to the region, often hunkering with families in bomb shelters. Today the medical-supply runs have turned into a full-service healthcare center in Stepanakert, the capital, with a training center that in the last year graduated its first healthcare workers.

Nagorno-Karabakh taught the baroness to beware of other "no-go" areas: southern Sudan, northern Nigeria, East Timor, and refugee camps along the Burma-Thai border. Other parliamentarians, she could see, were content to read reports about faraway conflicts and give speeches about them. Some aid workers, on the other hand, were content to transport a plane or two of emergency supplies into a conflict zone, easing temporary needs and pricks of conscience but accomplishing little toward lasting transformation. The baroness recognized her unique position: She could do both.

In Nigeria this year she put the combo to work, successfully embarrassing local authorities into reinstating jobs for 11 nurses fired by Muslim hospital administrators in Bauchi state. The nurses would not renounce Christianity and wear Islamic dress. When Mrs. Cox learned of their cases, she dragged other parliamentarians to Nigeria and lobbied endlessly on their behalf.

Mrs. Cox has made at least 28 trips to southern Sudan to regions where the Islamic government forbids UN aid to predominantly Christian tribes. She learned from villagers and saw firsthand slave raids, villages burned, crops destroyed, and forced Islamicization. She met Christians whose first aid request was for Bibles, and rebel commanders who walked all night, fording swollen rivers on foot during the rainy season, just to meet her.

On one trip to Eastern Upper Nile she and a relief team discovered newly displaced Sudanese. "Mothers had babies dying on their breasts," she recalls. "Even an immediate supply of food would be too late for them. They were just sitting and dying in huge numbers." The nurse quickly recognized that thousands of the children had whooping cough, but "we had nothing but erythromycin." She watched many of them die.

Comments

You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading

    Advertisement